Young Professionals Abroad: How to Make the Most of Your Travels

Travelling abroad provides a unique opportunity to gain perspective on the world. It is an experience that can give young professionals an advantage applying for entry-level openings in development, public policy, and foreign relations. Making the most of your time abroad is integral to how relevant the overall experience proves to future career pursuits. While much is written about getting the most out of internships as a young professional, very rarely does career advice address the linkage between travel abroad and adding value to one’s professional skill-set. For those looking to travel abroad that want more than a few months of coffee shops, museums, and long train rides—the following five tips are for you.


1) Pursue a language. There is simply no way to replicate in a classroom the learning experience inherent to being in another country, completely surrounded by individuals speaking a different language. Travelling abroad and surrounding yourself with the language you desire to learn is without fail the quickest path to gaining proficiency. It beats any summer language program, any personal tutor, any edition of Rosetta Stone. The key is to keep your ears turned on for as much of your time in the country as possible. People that pick up languages quickly are first and foremost tireless listeners.


2) Keep a journal of your most memorable encounters. Record the details of your most powerful exchanges with locals and cultural immersion experiences—these will serve you well in the future when you’re inevitably asked what you learned during your travels. Concrete stories are one of the best ways to express why you’re more qualified professionally because of your time abroad. 


3) Travel with a purpose. If you’ve determined your professional focus—be bold and plan your travel according to the opportunities you know you’ll have to gain experience in your field. Whether its interest in refugee work, water resource management, or elections—it may prove fruitful to travel to countries where you know these fields are relevant. Trust that once you arrive, with persistence you’ll find a way to gain exposure or experience in your area of focus. 


4) Intern. Most organizations with international operations “hire then send.” In other words, being physically present in a country won’t necessarily help you get a job with one of the organizations running operations on the ground. This isn’t to say you can’t find a job, but if you’re an expat in the country staying for only 5 months, an internship opportunity is a far more likely possibility. To your advantage, the application pool for such internships abroad is often smaller than what you find in the United States. The process can be very informal. You’re living in country (x) for 3 months travelling and learning a language. You meet someone working at international organization (y) and they ask you if you’re interested in helping out with project (z) four days a week. 


5) English is an asset. English can land you a tutoring job to stay afloat financially, but more relevant to a career in foreign policy, it can give you the chance to write in your area of expertise. Most countries have at least one English newspaper, very frequently these papers are seeking native-English speakers to serve as proofreaders and editors. Often these positions eventually provide the chance to write in areas such as economics and politics—a great detail to add to your resume.